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Why the Best Trees Aren’t Always the Biggest

When was the last time you really looked at a tree?

One of Marc Wolf’s vivid childhood memories is of doing just that: walking around his New Jersey backyard with a tree identification book when he was maybe 8 years old, exploring the towering individuals around him.

It wasn’t until decades later that he began closely examining trees again, after an education and a 30-year theater career, complete with an Obie Award, followed by a second education, in horticulture. But now the trees are on a 2,400-foot-high Catskills peak in Tannersville, N.Y., where Mr. Wolf is the executive director of the 178-acre Mountain Top Arboretum.

The trees of his current fascination are not the obvious show-offs of suburban backyards or parks. Their beauty is not the insistent, look-at-me sort that a pink-flowered crab apple or a flowering dogwood possesses.

A Way to Garden, and a book of the same name.

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Instant Reaction: Consumer Price Index, September 14, 2021

“It seems that inflation is slowly cooling off, confirming the Fed’s view that high inflation will be temporary. Inflation continued to rise quickly in August, but less than the previous couple of months. Over the last 12 months consumer prices rose 5.3% compared to 5.4% in both July and June. Meanwhile, economists and policymakers typically pay close attention to core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices. In August, core inflation retreated to 4.0% from 4.3% in July. It’s also worth mentioning that core inflation increased by 0.1% from July which is the smallest month-to-month increase since February 2021.

With most children and students back in the classrooms, airline fares, used cars and trucks, and motor vehicle insurance all declined over the month. Remember that these were some of the expenditures that boosted inflation during June and July. In contrast, rent prices are picking up. In August, rent and owners’ equivalent rent both climbed 0.3% from July. We have noted previously that rent prices will increase in the following months. Record high home prices (not included in the CPI) hurts affordability, delaying the transition to homeownership for many renters. While rental vacancies are falling, this translates to a higher rental demand which is expected to push up rent prices.”

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Commercial Weekly: Increase in Demand for Retail Space

U.S. consumers have been the driving force behind the continued recovery that took place in Q2 2021, which saw demand for retail space increase.

COVID-19 vaccinations coupled with the easing of pandemic measures and fiscal stimulus brought consumers out, with some returning to the office and participating in pre-pandemic activities such as eating out and sporting events. As of September 13, the CDC reported that more than 380 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across the U.S. and more than 178 million people are considered fully vaccinated. Fiscal stimulus by way of direct checks issued to millions of consumers in addition to extended and increased unemployment benefits has result in increased income over the first six months of 2021. Motivated by the increase in income, consumer spending increased.

Total retail sales continued to steadily increase from the beginning of the pandemic through Q2 2021 as sales increased from $1.3 trillion in Q2 2020 to $1.6 trillion in Q2 2021, for a year-over-year growth rate of 28.2%. The improvement in sales has come at the expense of e-commerce which saw its percentage of total retail sales decrease from 15.7% in Q2 2020 to 13.3% in Q2 2021.

The increase in retail sales is more than welcome, as retailers across the spectrum have benefited. Along with increasing retail sales, the number of retail store closings have decreased, elevating demand for retail space. More than 8,736 retail stores closed last year according to Coresight Research and the pace has been slower thus far in 2021. As of September, more than 4,748 stores are set to close in comparison to 4,616 openings which results in a 3% difference for closures, in comparison to a nearly 143% difference over the same period a year ago. Currently, U.S. store openings are ahead of the pace recorded for both 2018 and 2019.

Demand for Retail Space Increases

During the past three months ending September 13, there was a net absorption gain of 19,070,298 sf. Of the six categories of retail assets covered in this report, absorption for the past three months was negative in malls (-1 million sf) and other (-463,697 sf), which is more than offset by the increases in general retail, neighborhood centers, power centers, and strip centers.

Bar chart

The past three-month net absorption gain is substantially more than the 12-month net absorption recorded in Q1 2021 (-17.4 million sf), Q4 2020 (-24.6 million sf), and Q3 2020 (-17.5 million sf). Twelve-month net absorption for retail space eventually turned positive in the Q2 2021 with net absorption totaling 11.6 million. While demand for retail space decreased amidst the pandemic, the retail property market pivoted in Q4 2020 with total positive net absorption reaching nearly 28 million sf through Q2 2021.

Another indicator of increasing demand is leasing volume. According to NAR’s analysis of CoStar® data on 390 metro areas, leasing totaled 65,144,289 sf in Q2 2021. This level of demand is substantially higher than the 44,924,273 sf recorded in Q2 2020 at the peak of the pandemic and higher than the 60,598,011 sf recorded in Q1 2021.

Line graph

Nationally, the retail vacancy rate stood at 5% in Q2 2021, which was marginally higher than the 4.6% in Q1 2020 as rates have remained relatively stable over the year thus far. Across the retail property categories, the vacancy rate was highest in neighborhood centers (7.7%) while malls, strip centers, other, power centers, and general retail were 7.4%, 6.0%, 5.9%, 5.7%, and 3.1% respectively. Strip centers are anchorless or have a smaller convenience store anchors such as a mini-mart, and these properties have performed favorably in fulfilling consumer needs.

Line graph

Although vacancy rates are slightly increasing in the majority of markets and across some retail properties, retail vacancy rates on-the-whole are significantly below that of the majority of the past 10 years. As such, rents have faced little pressure, but they are trending slightly higher. Rents rose over the past three months ending September 13 to .9%, up from Q1 2020 (.4%) and Q2 2020 (.2%). The year-over-year percent change in rent growth for retail was 1.2% in Q2 2021.


Consumers not only have more funds to deploy, but they are also more confident than they were a year ago. Despite consumer confidence decreasing in August to February 2021 levels, consumers have some confidence but have concerns with respect to the Delta variant and inflation, and as a result total retail and food service spending cooled in July. Despite the decrease in spending in July, more consumers are becoming fully vaccinated and are returning to pre-pandemic activities; these activities have seen significant spending increases as consumers were unable to participate in them within the past year. Activities range from sporting events to the traditional dine-in experience. As the economy and commercial real estate continues to return to normal, retailers will as well. As opposed to shuttering retail locations, retailers will pursue the growth opportunities they had pre-pandemic with an emphasis on e-commerce. The omnichannel is no longer a distant goal but one that is a necessity today considering consumer spending habits highlighted and accelerated by the pandemic. Expect e-commerce and physical retail sales to continue to increase and as a result, so will the demand for retail space.

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Want to Increase Your Home’s Value? Start With the Entrance.

The entrance to your home is often its public face, communicating your sense of style to the world. It’s also a transition space that can be either inviting or forbidding — a source of pleasure or frustration.

“I think of it as an outdoor room, and it’s the first room you come into contact with, which sets the stage for everything you’re going to experience in the house,” said Scott J. Sottile, a partner at Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, a New York-based firm whose latest book, “Collaborations: Architecture, Interiors, Landscapes,” will be published next month.

So getting the design right, Mr. Sottile said, is “incredibly important.”

The front entrance is also a place where a few inexpensive changes can boost a home’s overall value. “In a very direct way, we think curb appeal increases property values,” said Prentis Hale, a principal at the Seattle-based architecture firm Shed. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics estimated that curb appeal alone could account for up to 7 percent of a home’s sale price.

Credit…Philip Gorrivan

So it’s nice to have an attractive front entrance, but there’s also a strong financial incentive. Mr. Hale and other architects and designers offered some advice about how to proceed.

Philip Gorrivan, an interior designer based in New York, painted the door to his London townhouse high-gloss black to make it stand out. “I love a lacquered door,” Mr. Gorrivan said. “It adds a little personality.”

If you’re feeling more ambitious and have a front porch, consider painting the ceiling. It could be a traditional light blue, long popular in Southern states like South Carolina and Georgia, or something unexpected, like a light yellow, said Lindsay Anyon Brier, the founder of Anyon Interior Design in San Francisco.

But choose “a really subtle shade,” Ms. Brier advised, “so there’s just a little pop of color.”

Beth Webb, an interior designer based in Atlanta. “Exterior lighting is so incredibly pivotal. You want that soft glow.”

A large hanging lantern is a good way to provide general illumination while making a statement, Ms. Webb said, as is a pair of wall-mounted lanterns.

When choosing decorative fixtures like that, think carefully about scale. Fixtures that look big in a store, or inside your home, can sometimes appear diminutive when you move them outside. Depending on the size of the house, bigger is often better.

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Thomas H. Lee Partners Acquires House of Design

NAMPA, Idaho & BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. (“THL”), a premier private equity firm investing in growth companies, announced today that it has acquired a majority interest in House of Design LLC (the “Company”), a leading provider of robotic automation systems and software for the residential construction market. THL’s investment will strengthen House of Design’s existing capabilities and provide capital and resources for future growth investments. House of Design’s co-founders will hold minority positions in the Company. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Founded in 2012 and based in Nampa, Idaho, House of Design is a leading provider of automated solutions for the building components and residential offsite construction industries. The Company designs and engineers robotic systems that increase component manufacturers’ production output and capacity while reducing the challenges of labor shortages. Proprietary software makes House of Design’s system the only fully automated system that can produce complex variable trusses and wall panels without robot retraining or resetting.

THL’s investment in House of Design will accelerate the Company’s ability to build upon its leading robotic technology and software platform and accelerate new product innovation for its customers.

“Our partnership with THL is a monumental milestone for the Company,” said Shane Dittrich and Ryan Okelberry, Co-Founders of House of Design. “THL brings the expertise and sophistication needed to reach the next stage in our Company’s growth, and we have a shared vision for how to get there. We are excited to partner with THL and leverage their deep automation expertise and financial and operational resources to fuel House of Design’s growth strategy.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the House of Design team,” said Mike Kaczmarek, Managing Director at THL. “Persistent labor scarcity in the construction industry is driving greater need for automated solutions, and House of Design’s offerings help address labor shortage and worker safety challenges while providing an attractive ROI to the customer. THL is excited to support House of Design in continuously growing and innovating its product offerings to help customers increase production throughput and revenue.”

Stifel acted as financial advisor, Kirkland & Ellis LLP acted as legal advisor and PwC acted as accounting and tax advisor to THL. PEAK Technology Partners, a San Francisco based investment bank, acted as the exclusive financial advisor and Stoel Rives acted as legal advisor to House of Design.

About House of Design

House of Design has established itself as a thought leader and premier provider of robotic solutions, dynamic software applications, and system integration services. Through a multitude of successful automation projects across varied industries, House of Design is recognized as an innovative, collaborative partner committed to the success of the clients it serves.

Founded in 2012 by two engineers, House of Design has grown to 100+ employees and one of the largest robotic integrators in the West. Over the last ten years House of Design has been recognized nationally for its innovation in the robotics industry and as a small business leader in Idaho. The company’s vision is to ensure that execution matches strategy, emerging opportunities are captured, and team members grow, prosper and their work changes the world.

For more information, please visit

About Thomas H. Lee Partners

Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P. (“THL”) is a premier private equity firm investing in middle market growth companies exclusively in three sectors: Financial Services, Healthcare and Technology & Business Solutions. THL couples deep sector expertise with dedicated internal operating resources to transform and build great companies of lasting value in partnership with management. The Firm’s domain expertise and resources help to build great companies with an aim to accelerate growth, improve operations and drive long-term sustainable value. Since 1974, THL has raised more than $30 billion of equity capital, invested in over 160 companies and completed more than 500 add-on acquisitions representing an aggregate enterprise value at acquisition of over $210 billion. THL invests in automation companies through its flagship private equity fund and a dedicated automation fund. For more information, please visit

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Homebuilders’ Local Opportunity Index

There can be little doubt that our country is dealing with an urgent housing shortage. Economists, academics, and policy makers have recognized and addressed the need to increase the supply of new homes in order to meet current and future housing demand and to ease price gains. With the pandemic and favorable demographics intensifying even further the demand for housing, the widening gap between supply and demand for housing is resulting in multiple offers, bidding wars, and record high home prices.

Meanwhile, rising material and labor costs, labor woes, and increased competition are some of the main challenges that homebuilders are facing. For instance, 1.1 million jobs in the construction industry were lost during the first couple of months of the pandemic. Sixteen months later, we are still missing 232,000 construction jobs. It’s important to also keep in mind the U.S. construction industry has already been struggling with a skilled labor shortage for the last decade as its workforce has gradually aged out. Furthermore, lumber prices are still nearly 50% higher than last year and lumber costs twice as much now than any time in the last 30 years. Thus, even though we are building more homes than the historical average, it’s not enough to accommodate current housing demand.

To keep track of all of these factors, the National Association of REALTORS® created the Homebuilders’ Local Opportunity Index (HLOI), which measures both short-term and long-term opportunities for homebuilders at the local level. As all real estate is local, the ultimate purpose of this index is to identify the areas where homebuilders can build more homes with less risk for their business. To do so, NAR assessed local market conditions at the metropolitan area level including indicators related to:

The HLOI has two components: a) Core HLOI, short-term and long-term housing supply conditions, and b) market conditions HLOI, which includes 10 factors that capture the local market conditions. The index takes a value in the interval between 0 and 100, where a lower value means better opportunities for homebuilders.

Here are the top 20 metro areas with great opportunities for homebuilders:

U.S. Map: Areas With Great Opportunities for Homebuilders

The HLOI tracks 130 metropolitan areas in the United States using the indicators listed above, and more.

This index will be updated monthly.

If you are interested in purchasing the HLOI monthly report on a one-time basis or as an annual subscription, please contact Caroline Van Hollen at:

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What $2.7 Million Buys You in California

This house is just off California Boulevard, one of Pasadena’s main thoroughfares, and is 10 minutes by foot or five minutes by car from the campus of the California Institute of Technology. The streets in this part of the city are lined with mature trees, and many of the homes, including this one, date to the 1920s. The neighborhood has long been popular with Caltech professors; Albert Einstein lived a few blocks away during his time at the school.

Upgrades done by the sellers, who have owned the home for several decades, include renovating the kitchen and bathrooms, and adding a covered patio and built-in barbecue in the backyard.

Size: 3,667 square feet

Price per square foot: $735

Indoors: The grassy front yard sits behind a white picket fence, with a stone path that leads to the front door.

The living room is bright, with windows facing the front and side yards; it has a fireplace with a brick surround and white-plaster mantel, as well as the original decorative plaster moldings. Off the living room is a study with doors leading to the side of the property.

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Broadway Theater Owner Floating On Air After Record-Breaking Deal

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72-Unit Affordable Community in Brawley Sold for $5,050,000 by The Mogharebi Group

BRAWLEY, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Mogharebi Group, (“TMG”) has completed the sale of Valle del Sol, a 72-unit affordable community located at 1605 C Street. The property was sold above the list price with multiple offers for $5,050,000. Otto Ozen and Bryan LaBar represented the seller, Southern California based investor. The buyer was a private investor based out of Southern California.

“Valle del Sol is a newer build, 100% affordable housing community,” said Bryan LaBar, Senior Vice President of The Mogharebi Group. “As a result, there was a high level of interested buyers for this asset. However, it was our proprietary 1031 exchange platform that includes a robust network of private high net-worth and exchange buyers that ultimately drove the value and successfully closed.”

Built-in 2008, Valle del Sol is a 72-unit, affordable housing community. The property comprises seven residential buildings totaling 67,672 rentable square feet. The complex is situated on a 3.83-acre site. The apartment homes feature spacious one, two and three-bedroom floor plans with in-unit washer / dryer hook ups. The property boasts a clubhouse, playground, laundry facility and swimming pool.

About The Mogharebi Group (TMG): The Mogharebi Group is a brokerage firm specializing in the multifamily property sector throughout California. With unparallel local knowledge, an extensive global network of top real estate investors, state of the art technology, and direct access to capital, The Mogharebi Group is the best choice to meet the needs of major private investors and investment funds.

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